Trifling with Eternity

I had a great discussion with a friend after church about 1 John 3:2-3. 

Jesus will return...
 "and everyone who has this hope in Him 
purifies himself just as He is pure" (HCSB).

I grieved over a friend who is a believer who has absolutely no desire to break sinful habits and become more like Christ.
Shouldn't knowing Jesus will return motivate us to evaluate our hearts, root out sinful thoughts/habits, and desire to do (in the power of the Spirit) what He wants every day? 
I'm not talking about legalism, but rather grace-filled obedience.
None of us is perfect. 
We need God's mercy every day. 
But I can't fathom people calling Jesus "Lord" and then absolutely not caring about growing to be more like Him. 
We all are "prone to wander." 
That's why. . . 

My heart cry for myself, and for all my Christ-follower family and friends, is that we will truly live for Him and ENCOURAGE each other to live in light of His coming. (Titus 2:13)
The Bible teaches His return is imminent.... the time could be very short.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of trifling with eternity.
The same God who saved us wants to purify us. And I want to cooperate.
Don't you?
Graphic adapted courtesy of cohdra at Morguefile.


Building a "Zone" around Your Marriage

The media practically devoured Vice Present Mike Pence for his admission (in a 2002 piece for The Hill) that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and for other "boundary"-type choices.

Once again, the left was quick to criticize Pence and his wife Karen for their Christian choices.
Butfind this couple refreshing. In an anything-goes era, it is not so much their conservative, middle-America values that shine out, but rather their evangelical Christian discernment.

The Vice President is not a sexist, as the left claims. I'm sure he will deal with meetings with top female leaders (like England's Theresa May or Germany's Angela Merkel) in God-honoring ways.

He and his wife are not fools. They are concerned about integrity.

This power couple's overall commitment to each other and desire to protect that relationship should be applauded, not decried. 

Their "gut check" relationship protection is something to be admired, and it's not really that different from most conservative Christians who care about guarding their hearts and homes from harmful, even divisive distractions and temptation.

The scriptures are clear about the importance of "watching" out for temptation.
  • "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
  • "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38).
  • "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
The heart connection between Mike and Karen Pence is genuine and exemplary. She is his subtle but influential partner, valued ally and consistent prayer warrior.

But back to their decision to not have Mike Pence meet alone with other womenI get that.

Pence, again in his interview with The Hill, said their decision is akin to "building a zone around your marriage." In this wicked culture, there are many opportunities for temptation to creep in, and appearances can be deadly as well. 

The practice of careful public boundaries has gone out of fashion with some, but it's still a valid choice.

My husband, a pastor for many years, would not counsel any female without his study door open and the church secretary at her desk in the adjacent room.

This was not only for his protection against possible false accusations, but also for the counselee's freedom. My husband did not want to give any "opportunity" for the enemy to destroy what was meant to be a positive counseling experience.

In reading about Karen Pence, I discovered she was married once, quite young. They grew apart, her former husband said, as he spent long hours at work. Perhaps this failed marriage is one reason Karen Pence is so committed to staying near the Vice President. Perhaps they know by building a "zone" around their marriage, they will actually experience greater freedom to serve others.

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a young bride came from a wise elderly woman in my husband's church:

"Guard your marriage," she said. 
"The enemy is real, and he would love to destroy your home."

For some people, that boundarythat zonemight be called a "hedge of protection." 
  • It presupposes there is something of value worth protecting. 
  • There's a desire to protect marriage from perceived or real threats--and that could take on many forms, like the "other woman/other man" or even pornography. 
  • Within this protection there is a greater sense of relational freedom centered in trust, not a lot of "what-ifs." 
  • It includes the concept of becoming accountability partners. (Even if both partners are not willing to build in protective boundaries, God can bless the efforts of the spouse who does.)
If you are married, recognize its value. Be sure to build strong boundarieshedges of protectionin your marriage. If you are not married, commit to protecting others' marriages. Don't allow yourself to become the "other."

Marriage is a portrait of Jesus' relationship with His church, 
and as such it is precious and valuable, well worth guarding.

I think it's up to Christians to determine what that "guarding" looks like as a couple. For the Vice President and his loyal wife, that means clear boundaries.

  - Graphic, adapted from Leylandii Hedge, Evergreen Hedging.


No Bunnies Died for Me

It's almost Easter (or what I prefer to call "Resurrection Day").

And everywhere I look, I see bunnies. Chicks. Chocolate eggs and jelly beans. 

But so few lambs. 

I enter into the secularized fun of the season. Pinterest is full of ideas for a colorful holiday. I color eggs and create lovely spring bouquets and wreaths.

But once you know the real story, everything else misses the mark.

This special week is all about a perfect Lamb.

It's about Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), the prophesied Savior, the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The Old Testament prophesied the coming of this Messiah, the anointed One and our "guilt offering" (Isaiah 53:10). The perfect Savior would provide "atonement"--reconciliation between God and man (Romans 5:10-11; Hebrews 2:17; 1 Peter 2:24). He who knew no sin would "be sin" on our behalf to bring us to God (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21; Galatians 1:4).

I remember the first time I fully understood the significance of the Jewish Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:11-13) and the feast of the Passover. This Jewish celebration commemorated the Israelites' deliverance from bondage. The applying of the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorposts of the Israelites' houses, which was to protect them from destruction by the angel of death, was a meaningful picture of the coming Messiah's work as our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7b).

Later, the Jewish priests sacrificed innocent lambs daily in the Temple in Jerusalem to cover the people's sins until the promised Lamb of God arrived on the scene (Exodus 29:38-42). That Lamb would be led to the slaughter to redeem or ransom His people (Isaiah 53:7; Jeremiah 11:19; 1 Timothy 2:6). In other words, the chosen Lamb would deliver His people from bondage to sin by paying the ultimate price, His own death for us.

When Jesus was ready to begin His ministry, John the Baptist declared Him the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). When our Lord died, His blood "covered" those for whom He died--all who believe (John 3:16-17; Romans 3:23-25a). There is no more "spiritual death" for those who trust in His once-and-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-12).

I know this whole concept bothers some people.

As a child, I wanted nothing to do with this "bloody sacrifice." I thought God too cruel to demand it. I thought I should be able to somehow "earn" my way into acceptance with Him.

It took me many years to clearly see the ugliness of sin that separated me from a holy God (Romans 3:23; 6:23), that His perfect provision for my soul required a blood sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11). I had to understand the depths of my Father's love (1 John 4:10).

As the apostle Peter explained,
"...it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God" (1 Peter 1:18-21, NIV).
No bunnies died for me. Only the perfect Lamb.
No bunnies were buried in a borrowed tomb for three days, and then raised from the dead to release me from my darkness and bondage to sin. No bunnies ever gave me eternal life. Only Jesus did these things (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Only the perfect Lamb.

The Lamb who became my Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

He is our worthy Redeemer (Revelation 5:9), and I will thank and praise Him forever.

"Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us 
to share in the inheritance of the saints 
(God's people) in the Light. 
For He has rescued us and has drawn us to Himself 
from the dominion of darkness, 
and has transferred us 
to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 
in whom we have redemption 
[because of His sacrifice, resulting in]
the forgiveness of our sins
[and the cancellation of sins' penalty" 
(Colossians 1:12-14, Amplified).


Let's Not Sanitize the Cross

"A real Christian is known not by the cross he wears," Steve Lawson said, "but by the cross he bears."

I have three crosses in my jewelry box. My favorite is a black cross with a silver "X" across the cross bars. It reminds me Jesus cancelled out the ugliness of my sin, and I bear the consequences of my sin no more.

I don't wear my jewelry crosses often, but when I do, I always reflect on why the cross is so important. It's a reflection of the One who loved me enough to die for me, and also a reminder there is a "cross" Jesus expects me to carry as His disciple.

The world sees this "symbol" of Christianity without giving it much thoughtexcept for those in other religions who try to stamp out the "people of the cross."

But go back some 2,000 years ago and a cross made everyone shudder!

It was a means of execution, an ugly and repulsive symbol of death. Victims suffered during this method of capital punishment for days, eventually dying from exhaustion and asphyxiation. 

So why is the cross such a sign of faith today? 

Christ-followers understand the cross, which was so full of meaning for Christians, is the powerful first chapter of the story of what Jesus did and continues to do for us (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 10:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:23Colossians 3:1-4).
  • Chapter 1: the CROSS; the death of Christ to atone for the sins of mankind
  • Chapter 2: the RESURRECTION; the empty tomb
  • Chapter 3: the RETURN. Jesus coming back for His own so they can live with Him in eternity.
Without the cross, there isn't a gospel story. 

All have sinned and the soul that sins, the Bible says, only deserves death; but God demonstrated His love toward us in the death of His Son on the cross as our holy substitute (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4b; Romans 5:8). 

Remove the message of the cross from Christian theology and you have nothing left but an empty shell. A joyless, powerless religion.

In today's culture, Christians often reject uncomfortable topics like the sacrifice of the cross, preferring to focus on the love of Jesus. But the cross is crucial to our faith. 

People might say, "Oh, I prayed the sinner's prayer." But the sinner's prayer isn't the true basis for our salvation. There will be many "professing" Christians who never actually trusted Christ for salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). They trusted works, good feelings about God, positive thinking and countless other substitutes for God's provision.

Salvation is not about our works or even our "Christianized thoughts." It's all about what Jesus accomplished for us in paying the penalty for sin. There is no forgiveness, the scriptures say, without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). 
Bloodless Christianity is fake Christianity.
Sadly, I've noticed Christians, in the busyness of ministry, sometimes forget the power of the cross and the efficacy of the blood of the spotless Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-19). 

If you are a Christ-follower:
  • Do you recognize how estranged from God and in rebellion to Him you were before He rescued you? 
  • Do you understand the power of the gospel, not just for salvation, but for victorious daily living?
I have to admit, sometimes I act just like those who never experienced the power of the cross. I resort to old "works living" and lose the joy of trusting the Lord moment-by-moment for His plans and His strength.

But, praise God, there is power in the blood of Jesus. Remember the old hymn?

Would you be free from your burden of sin? 
There's power in the blood, power in the blood. 
Would you o'er evil a victory win? 
There's wonderful power in the blood. *
It's almost Good Friday ... a time:
  • To pause and reflect,
  • To remember, and 
  • To praise God with gratitude.
"Every time you see a cross," Dr. Charles Stanley wrote, "remember what it really was."

Let's not "sanitize" the cross. 

And remember too: unlike others who were crucified, Jesus was not a "victim" of the cross. 

While we were "yet sinners," Jesus chose to die for us (Romans 5:8). Our Lord was willing to endure the horrors of the cross, despising (disregarding) the shame" for our salvation (Hebrews 12:2; John 15:13). Five times in John 10:10-18, we learn Jesus willingly gave Himself up to the cross for our salvation. In the prophecy of the Messiah in Psalm 40, we "hear" Christ saying He delighted to do His Father's will (Psalm 40:7-8).

Your redemption was birthed in His pain 
so your new birth could abide in His joy.

Oh, I have a "cross" to bear in this life, I need to put to death my own plans and desires and commit my life fully to my Lord (Luke 9:23; 14:27). 

But my "cross" is nothing compared to the cross my Savior bore. It had eternal consequences for all humanity.

"Thank Jesus that He was willing to be crucified," Stanley wrote, "so the Father could forgive you of sin." 

Let's do that right now:

Lord Jesus, give me a fresh vision of the cross. 
Help me see it from the Father's eyes. 
Thank you, Father God. 
Thank you, Jesus.

- Charles Stanley Quotes from 
* Hymn: https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/1009